Skip to main content
Research Guides

PIT FYS – Philosophical Questions - Prof Alwishah / FA17

What are primary sources?

A primary source is an original document or publication relating to a particular subject, experiment, time period, or event. Autobiographies, journals, and diaries are considered primary sources. Original manuscripts and contemporary records, such as newspaper articles and firsthand accounts from the period, are primary sources. Creative works - music, art, literature - are also primary sources. Primary sources provide the raw information or data which scholars use in their research.

In literature, the most important primary source is usually the literary work or group of works which is the focus of research. Other primary source materials can add greatly to your understanding of the work you are researching within its cultural and historical context. Letters, diaries, and original manuscripts by the author; letters and diaries written by people who lived in the historical period and/or the geographical location of the author or the work; newspaper and magazine articles contemporary with the writing and publication of the literary work. All these and many other primary sources can enhance your interpretation of the work.

Many primary source materials are available to you from the Library in these collections:

Primary Source Databases for Literature

Primary Sources in Library Catalogs

Primary sources of all types can also be found in our regular, circulating books, in special collections, and beyond.  Here are few ways to find primary texts and sources by using our own Library Search.
1. Use the author search  to find books we have by a particular author, politician, journalist or another type of historical witness
2.  Do an advanced keyword search in The Library Search and then limit by publication year under “limit your search”) (note:  you can also limit by language and many other ways)
3. . Do an advanced keyword in Library Search and then limit to the word  "sources" in the subject field (by using the dropdown menu), for example:


"Ancient Philosophy" in the keyword field

"sources" in the subject field. 
(this brings us the Library of Congress Subject subheading “sources” which is sometimes used to designate primary source collections of different kinds — as in
Philosophy, Ancient Sources.--Sources
A  rich source of primary materials is Honnold/Mudd Special Collections  and its librarians.